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Keywords:

  • Biodiversity;
  • density-mediated indirect effects;
  • ecosystem function;
  • fungicide;
  • herbicide;
  • insecticide;
  • trait-mediated indirect effects

Abstract

The field of ecotoxicology is experiencing a surge in attention among ecologists as we gain a deeper appreciation for how contaminants can impact natural ecosystems. This interest is particularly strong in aquatic systems where many non-target organisms experience pesticides. In this article, we assess how pesticides affect freshwater systems by applying the conceptual framework of density- and trait-mediated indirect effects from the field of basic ecology. We demonstrate the utility of this framework for understanding the conditions under which pesticides affect species interactions, communities and ecosystems. Through the integration of laboratory toxicity tests and this ecological framework, ecotoxicologists should be better able to identify the mechanisms through which pesticides affect communities and ecosystems. We also identify several areas of research that are in critical need of empirical attention including synergistic effects between pesticides and natural stressors, the importance of pesticides on community assembly via habitat preferences and oviposition effects, the timing and frequency of pesticide applications, pesticide effects on population dynamics, the evolution of pesticide resistance in non-target organisms and ecosystem recovery. With this knowledge, one can improve upon management decisions and help protect non-target species that are of conservation concern.